The Grand Bazaar, built in 1461 is the original shopping mall of the world.
And it’s funking huge.
The Kapalıçarşı (as it’s known in Turkish) is a labyrinth of 61 covered streets and over 3000 shops. Whilst getting yourself completely lost in this glittering jungle you will encounter master-craftsmen of jewellery, traditional pottery, metalwork and textiles, alongside tack-flogging so-and-so’s sporting the latest in LED and techno-tack. If you’re in the market for some fine leathers, carpets, glassware, cashmere or silks you will be bamboozled by the sheer variety of stores. Even if you have no intention of buying you will have yourself a day well-spent immersing yourself in this thronging hive of razzle-dazzle-metazzletion.
Location – Sultanahmet District, Istanbul, Turkey (Google Maps)
Get There – Next to Çarşıkapı tram stop. Walkable from all major sights around Sultanahmet.
Admission – Free for all…. just bring your pocket money 🙂
Essentials – Haggling and bargaining skills. Practise before descending into the chaos. Also be prepared to have some patience with pushy sellers!
Facilities – All manners of wares, hundreds of cafes selling traditional tea, coffee and local and fast food dishes.
It’s an astounding place and should you visit we recommend you drop any map you have and simply get lost in its magic. The store owners are fantastic, the guys found on the main streets (ie, the most touristy) are quite pushy but further in down the quieter streets there are some real gents who will go out of their way to show you their wears over a cup of Turkish tea.
Some of the most inexpensive food joints in Istanbul can be found across the Bazaar, just head down some streets and you will come across locals eating kebabs and slurping down some Ayran (an unsweetened yoghurt drink which is, let’s say, an acquired taste. I think it tastes like salty balls, but the Turks seem to love it).
Making your way out of the western or northern exits of the Bazaar you will enter an even larger shopping district. No, district is too small a word, let’s call it a small city. Here you will pass through a variety of very distinct regions, for example you will walk through a large area that can only be described as the ‘women’s underwear’ district, before finding yourself in the ‘men’s business sock’ district, before stumbling into the ‘fishing tackle and gigantic guns’ district, which then turns into the ‘children’s plastic toy’ district. In short, anything you want, you’ll find it here.
There is also the Spice Bazaar further down which is a magical place full of fragrance and delightful smells, sights and sounds, but to be honest you can buy exactly the same thing from the supermarket for a hell of a lot cheaper.
It can be quite disorienting, especially considering the 250,000-strong mass of people that swarm the area every day, but it is a wonderful hive of activity and to wander through it is to experience the unique fusion of traditional-modern culture that only Istanbul can provide.
On Haggling – although haggling has always been trumped as a must-do throughout the city, an increasing number of shop owners are only accepting the ‘displayed price’. In short, they are modernising and the only places that will haggle are likely to rip you off anyway. Therefore if you are going to haggle, make sure it is over something worthwhile and that you know what you are doing. Otherwise you may get screwed, I mean…learn a valuable lesson.